Some Lessons from David Ogilvy

Our parents teach us some pretty important stuff, right? 

From my parents, I have learnt some excellent life lessons: 

  • it’s vital to have an opinion (my mum is a Leo and has an opinion on everything)
  • it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed
  • Always be kind 
  • Follow your dreams, not the money because wealth comes from other places

And not explicitly a life lesson from my parents, but my experience with them: eat before you visit because they will never have snacks. 

I recently finished Ogilvy on Advertising, and since it was recently Father’s Day and Ogilvy is considered the Father of Advertising, I thought it would be fun to share some of his advice which really resonated with me.

Although he’s from a ‘different time’ (read: 1950s sexism gets my back up), there is an absolute Aladdin’s Cave of valuable information to learn from Ogilvy on copywriting and advertising. If you haven’t read Ogilvy on Advertising or Confessions of an Advertising Man, I absolutely recommend. 

Believe in the product or service

Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.’ 

David Ogilvy

Although this should be obvious, it can be pretty challenging to be creative around a product that doesn’t get you pumped, and it’ll show up in your copy. And when you are pumped about a product, that passion will shine through. 

But how do you believe in a product and sell it like your life depends on it when you lack conviction? You need to get to know your audience and feel how much this product or service means. By knowing your audience reallllly well, you learn to anticipate their wants, needs, dreams and desires. 

Who is your audience? 

By compiling information, you know about your audience, you can create an avatar and write for them. The more you know about them, the more they can come to life. 

When I worked for a travel company, we even named our avatars and spoke about them like they were friends of ours. ‘Oh yeah, the empty nesters, Steve and Pam.’ They were almost real to us. And that’s how it should be; otherwise, how will you care about what they care about?

But how do you create realistic customer avatars? You find out as much about them as possible, looking at data that gives you info such as:

  • age
  • gender
  • location
  • education level 
  • marital status
  • occupation & income

This information tells you who your audience is, and you can break it down into further segments for you to hit them with the info that they’ll care about. But their stats won’t always be what will get them pumped up and excited about your product/service. For that, you need to find out more about their ‘why’ and look at psychoanalysis. 

Breaking customer segmentation down further to dividing your audience up based on a range of personality traits, hobbies, values, personalities, habits, and attitudes. 

To find out your customers ‘why’, you’ll look at things like: 

  • personality, characteristics and traits
  • lifestyle
  • social class
  • attitudes & beliefs 
  • activities & interests 

But how do you get this information without becoming a stalker? 

There are three main ways to find out these valuable insights into your audience: 

Talk to your customers

I know, I know, talk to them, what?! Imagine! But I mean it, hardly any brands actually speak to their customers. You could hold focus groups, do a bit of market research, send out customer surveys, and hold polls on social media. 

By finding out what they care about, you’ll be able to tailor your copy to it more effectively. Plus, by learning more about their language, their pain points and how they express themselves, you’ll be able to tailor your copy more effectively. 

What are they saying online? 

By using social listening, you’ll find out more about how to talk to your customers in their language and tone of voice. Head to your social media pages and look at what your customers have to say and, most importantly, how they say it. Note the language they use, how they express themselves, the things they like, the things they don’t. This will give you a better insight into how to talk to your customers. 

What does your website analytics say? 

If you’re using web analytics (which you are, obvs), it would be super helpful for you to dive into your existing site analytics. Moz has a great guide for beginners on the importance of site analytics (including how to get set up, if you’re not already.) 

What’s a pain point? 

Basically, a pain point is something that is causing friction in your audience’s life. 

Pain points can typically be grouped into one of four categories:
Financial – spending too much money on their current provider/solution/production and they want to reduce their spend
Productivity – wasting too much time using their current solution or they just wish to use their time more efficiently 
Process – wants to improve processes such as nurturing leads or managing their schedule 
Support – wants or needs more support at critical stages

Once you’ve identified your audience’s pain points, you can show them exactly how your product/service fixes it.

Your headline does 80% of the work

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

David Ogilvy

Absolutely renown for killing it with headlines, David Ogilvy wrote headlines that instantly grabbed the audience’s attention. 

Let’s start with one of Ogilvy’s favourites, Rolls-Royce:

My favourite part of this headline is there’s nothing crazy outlandish here, it’s just information. 

But how do you create the perfect headline? 

Don’t try to be too clever and risk the message. Clarity is e v e r y t h i n g. If you only have your audience’s attention for the time it takes for them to read a headline, then they need to know what you’re talking about instantly. 

Get specific

Cast your mind back to an English Language class; remember when you’re learning how to write persuasively and how essential stats are to convincing readers of the point you’re trying to make? This is still true. Our brains just love a number to reassure us what the words are saying. According to The Content Marketing Institute, our brains are drawn to odd numbers. Apparently, they help us to digest and recall numbers more easily. 

Obviously, if you only have an even number of points, don’t drag it out and lose your audience with drawn-out copy. 

Nurture your copy

Like a midwife, I make my living bringing new babies into the world, except that mine are new advertising campaigns. 

David Ogilvy

Unfortunately, we all know that copy is often the last ‘to do’ on the list. Mainly because:
– Brands & businesses often rely on visuals to sell for them 
– Copy is underrated, so often people think it’s easy just to throw in a few words last minute, and that’ll be good enough. 

Even for copywriters, it’s not always easy to write powerful, compelling copy off the bat. It can take a lot of time and energy, a lot of nurturing to fine-tune a single sentence. However, that nurturing and fine-tuning process will get results; after all, Ogilvy nurtured every single one of his ad campaigns, developing them into some of the best-selling campaigns in the history of advertising. 

Don’t dumb it down 

A consumer is not a moron. She’s your wife. Don’t insult her intelligence, and don’t shock her. 

David Ogilvy

Oof. Let’s ignore the casual 1950s sexist vibe here. But the basic message is: don’t speak down to your audience. Dumbing it down will only turn them off. 

Take the pain points you identified when getting to know your audience and tune into them to solve their problem. Sure, you also want to be cute, charming and sell them the dream of your brand but talk to them with respect. 

Unless you’re using Gordon Ramsey in Kitchen Nightmares USA as inspiration for branding, obvs, then weird flex, but sure, treat your customers like an idiot sandwich. 

Surround yourself with people who know more than you do

Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.

David Ogilvy

In our gig economy, I see this race to the bottom for pricing and talent so often. I know I might be a bit biased, but if you want the best people and the best talent working to make you, your product, and your business as good as it can be? Seek out and hire people who know their stuff – and then pay them for that knowledge, those skills, and talent. 

The best advertising in history is collaborative. Don’t be afraid to bring in the experts to help you when you can’t do what they can. I’m actually a big fan of delegating tasks that free me up to do the things that I enjoy, I’m good at and are worthwhile. Whether that means bringing a VA, a cleaner or a copywriter into your life to free up precious time and energy, I’m championing that for you. 

Talking about bringing in people to do what you can’t or don’t want to do, how’s your copy looking? Whether you need a hand writing compelling copy that converts or just a little finishing fairy to make your words sparkle, take a look at my services and see what I could do for you. Plus, check out nice things previous clients have said about our time together here.

Published by Saloni Chamberlain

Turning words into stories with feeling.

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